I was fortunate to be able to attend a talk by Edward de Bono last week in Melbourne organised by VPSCIN. I have read a fair bit on him and it was great to be able to see the man present. Shawn at Anecdote did an interesting post on the session.
What I found particularly interesting was his links between systems, creativity and humour. Edward said that “Any system that has input over time will be sub-optimal” as the purpose of our minds is to make stable patterns to make sense of reality. Reality builds up from the input we receive. To gain optimum performance, one often needs to totally redesign the system. I was talking at work recently about the need to redesign Justice systems to better cope with the future and so this resonated with me.
Edward further said that all self-organising systems are asymmetric in that going from A to B tends to be quite convoluted but in hindsight, looking back from B to A is direct. It is not logical in foresight but absolutely logical in hindsight. And then he commented that this is why humour and creativity work the same way. The joke or the insight is clear in hindsight but at the start it is unclear.
To gain these insights, he provided four approaches. These were:
- Challenge – place a block on the path so that you have to explore possibilities – example of drilling horizontally for oil or having electric batteries on car trailers.
- Concept extraction – generate alternatives to gain direction/purpose and ideas = example of parking with the lights on
- Provocation (Po) – generate a provocative operation and see how you can move forward from it – examples of having square wheels on cars leading to the design of improved suspension or taxi drivers that don’t know the way.
- Chance – start thinking from a different point – such as using a random word (needs to be a noun) or Newton getting hit by an apple.
I compared this with some of the foresight techniques we use. Po is one that is used quite a bit to come up with hare-brained alternatives. But I was left with the impression that all of these are useful but only approach it from your own values-set and identity. He didn’t mention how would someone totally different (from a different culture, set of beliefs, values, etc) would approach the issue. This is something that is used in CLA or critical futures studies a lot more.
He finished by commenting that if God is perfect, then God cannot think, have humour or be creative as God already has the knowledge. He also stated that 90% of errors of thinking are to do with our perception and that the biggest barrier to thinking and progress is in language.